It was a role reversal this week for the Detroit Lions. For so much of this season, the offense had been bailing out the defense. But on Sunday against the Chicago Bears, the Lions offense was the one that was largely to blame—particularly in the second half.
Let’s dive a little deeper into that with our Week 14 report card and grades.
Early in the game, I thought Jared Goff was playing some decent football. His second quarter was particularly impressive, completing 9-of-13 passes for 65 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. His throw to Donovan Peoples-Jones was an absolute laser.
But in the second half, Goff had nothing. Granted, the struggling run game in the second half put him into a lot of third-and-longs, but Goff did nothing to elevate the offense. He often held onto the ball too long, was not finding any open receivers, and tried to put the ball into too many tight windows.
All day, it seemed the Bears were taking away Goff’s first read. And when that would happen, he’d either freeze and take a sack, or force a ball to one of his security blankets: Amon-Ra St. Brown and Sam LaPorta—both of whom had more incompletions when targeted than completions.
Running backs: B-
When involved, both Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery were efficient in their touches. On the ground, the two combined for 132 yards on just 21 carries (6.3 YPC). Gibbs, in particular, was very shifty with the ball in his hands. He also contributed another 16 yards through the air.
But it was a disappearing act for both of them in the second half. Additionally, Gibbs dropped an absolutely critical pass on third-and-10, which eventually led to a Lions interception. That catch could have very well gone for a touchdown and helped the offense out of an early rut.
Tight end: C
Nothing too good or bad from this group on Sunday. LaPorta caught just two of six targets for 23 yards, but both were big third-down pickups. Brock Wright added a pair of catches himself but for just 6 yards.
Wide receivers: D
It was an uncharacteristically awful game from St. Brown, who caught just three of nine targets against the Bears with at least a couple of drops. Elsewhere, the Lions seemingly don’t have a player that can reliably stretch the field. Jameson Williams has fully disappeared from the offense, and it’s hard to know whether he’s not getting open, Goff isn’t trusting him, or he’s simply not a big part of the game plan.
That said, it was nice to see Peoples-Jones make a big catch, and Josh Reynolds ran a nice route on his touchdown catch.
Offensive line: D
In the first half, I thought the Lions offensive line held up just fine. There were ample holes in the running game, leading Detroit to eclipse 100 rushing yards in the first half alone. Pass protection was fine, too, as the Lions ceded just a single quarterback hit in the first two quarters.
But it all collapsed in the second half. Some of that is just game situation. When the Lions were scrambling to get back into the game down two scores, the Bears pinned their ears back and tallied three second-half sacks on Goff. But some of that is self-inflicted, too. Detroit got into a lot of passing downs because the running game dried up in the second half. And Graham Glasgow’s botched snap came at the exact wrong time.
Also, I have no idea what was up with all of the penalties, but they proved to be extremely destructive.
Defensive line: D+
I want to give the defensive line a higher grade than this. They were able to produce a fair amount of consistent pressure—particularly in the first half. They would finish with eight quarterback hits and 3.0 sacks. In addition to that, Aidan Hutchinson and John Cominsky both tallied pass deflections, as well.
But the defensive line was also responsible for some of the biggest plays allowed by the Lions defense. Hutchinson was on the wrong side of two enormous moments: jumping offsides and giving the Bears a free play on a snap they never intended to make. He also lost contain by calling an ill-advised stunt, allowing Justin Fields to scramble for an 11-yard touchdown run.
Hutchinson said -- "I put a stunt on, and probably shouldn't put the stunt on, because I think I put my d-tackle in a bad situation there ... you're in the game, make decisions you think are right. It's the price of this game. It's the price of putting everything on the line." https://t.co/jZOuhAW16w— Ben Raven (@BenjaminSRaven) December 10, 2023
The interior of the defensive line didn’t get much push without Alim McNeill in the lineup, which allowed Fields—on more than one occasion—to find rushing lanes up the middle, including on a third-and-8 scramble that went for 19 yards.
A couple of Alex Anzalone penalties aside, I thought the Lions linebacking corps continues to perform at a pretty good level. Derrick Barnes laid a big hit on Fields, while Jack Campbell and Anzalone continued to be tackling machines.
And what else can you say about Jalen Reeves-Maybin? In just a limited subpackage role, he continues to make some of the best defensive plays out of anyone on the field. Against the Bears, he tallied both a sack and a pass defended.
The Lions weren’t exactly lit up by Fields, with the Bears quarterback completing just 57.6 percent of his passes for 6.8 yards per attempt and an 88.3 passer rating. But there always seem to be breakdowns at the worst time. Whether it’s giving up a wide-open, 38-yard touchdown on a free play, or allowing third-down conversion after third-down conversion.
The fact of the matter is despite there being a decent amount of pressure in this game, the Lions defensive backs are rarely getting their hands on the ball. Jerry Jacobs had a nice breakup before the end of the first half, and Kerby Joseph tallied one a little later. But that’s it.
Special teams: D
A missed extra point was countered by a blocked extra point in Detroit’s favor. But the Lions also gave up a pretty significant punt return (31 yards) that was nearly taken in for a touchdown had punter Jack Fox not grabbed the returner’s foot.
Let’s start with the in-game decisions. The Lions worked the first half two-minute drill to perfection, bleeding nearly five minutes of game clock and finding the end zone to take a 13-10 lead into the half. I know some people didn’t like Dan Campbell’s challenge, but I thought it was a close enough play on a third down that it was probably worth it at that point. It’s just unfortunate FOX didn’t have a great camera angle.
Yes, Campbell continues to go for it a ton of fourth down, but, again, I didn’t have much of a problem with any of them. The most controversial was a fourth-and-10 decision from the Bears’ 35-yard line, but Detroit cannot trust Riley Patterson from 53 in the cold, and a punt is largely worthless there. One fourth-down conversion led to a touchdown drive, and the other three came in desperation mode when there weren’t really any other alternatives.
So why the overall D grade? Well, everything else.
The offense looks absolutely stale. Look no further than their fourth-and-1 call that lost 4 yards. Worst of all, if they get even a little bit off-schedule, it seems like Ben Johnson isn’t sure what to do. There continues to be waayyyyyy too many runs on early downs, and it’s forcing Detroit into a lot of third-and-longs that they are currently incapable of converting.
This team has talent at quarterback, offensive line, and receiver, yet they seem allergic to test defenses downfield. It wasn’t until the game was essentially over that Goff seemed to have any interest in throwing the ball more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. it wasn’t that long ago that Detroit was among the leaders in the NFL in explosive plays, but the Lions recently have turtled into this dink-and-dunk offense which leaves them with no margin for error. Detroit finished with just two passing plays of more than 15 yards on the day.
Defensively, I appreciate that they are continuing to mix up personnel to try and find something that works. Ifeatu Melifonwu deserved a shot with the disastrous safety play as of late, and Charles Harris’ scratch didn’t come completely unexpected given his recent ineffectiveness.
That said, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn needs to be screaming in everyone’s ear not to jump offsides on a play obviously designed to get the defense to jump. Additionally, the same problems on defense continue to plague them: slow starts and third-and-down breakdowns. To have that still be an issue is a major red flag on coaching (same goes for the offense in the third quarter).
Ultimately, Dan Campbell used one word to describe the team’s performance on Sunday: undisciplined. That is a coaching problem.